FORT LAUDERDALE — When Urban Meyer was pondering a job offer from the University of Florida four years ago, he reached out to people who knew the program from the inside.
One of the many with whom he consulted was Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Florida's defensive coordinator from 1996 to 1998. Stoops gave Meyer the seal of approval, and they have shared a friendship ever since.
"Our relationship really began when Urban was considering taking the Florida job and wanted an unbiased opinion about the job," Stoops said.
"He called me, and we started to talk over a couple of days just about what my experience was there and what the possibilities were. We have had some good conversations."
When Florida and Oklahoma meet Thursday in the BCS title game, it will be a strange, full-circle moment for Stoops.
Not only will he face the man he encouraged to take over the Gators, he will compete against a program he helped win its first national championship in 1996.
The irony isn't lost on Meyer, who characterizes his relationship with Stoops as "great."
"He's a guy I entrusted the decision I made in my career because I knew I'd get an unbiased opinion, and he gave it to me," Meyer said. "We have a very good relationship."
Although Stoops' loyalty now, obviously, lies with the Sooners, he has said he will always have a soft spot for the Gators.
"Florida is a great program," Stoops said. "I, of course, had very close and strong ties with many people there; whether it be with the administration or in the area. I, of course, have great memories of my time there and had great experiences there."
Stoops, 48, and Meyer, 44, first crossed paths on the recruiting trail as assistants for Kansas State and Colorado State, respectively. Both are Ohio natives who grew up where football is like a religion. It's also a region that has produced a large number of highly successful coaches.
They are two of just six coaches who won national titles in their second seasons at a school. And both share the Midwest values of hard work, loyalty and dedication.
"We grew up about 90 miles apart from each other," said Meyer, who is from Ashtabula, Stoops from Youngstown.
"He went to Cardinal Mooney High. I went to Ashtabula St. Johns. So we have that tie that kind of binds us."
Their relationship often involves talking about what each loves most — football.
"He's a defensive guy, and I've run things by him in the past from hiring coaches to schematic issues," Meyer said. "And he's run some things by me as recently as this past summer, offensively. And we've talked as recently as (last month) about some other issues. So we have a very good, healthy relationship, and there's a lot of respect."
When Stoops helped Meyer decide to take over at Florida, it was just three years after Stoops turned down the same job.
When Steve Spurrier abruptly resigned in 2001 after 12 seasons with the Gators, athletic director Jeremy Foley's attention immediately turned to Stoops.
Despite his respect and admiration for the program, Stoops decided it was best not to return to Gainesville. The Gators settled for Ron Zook, who was fired midway through his third season. Stoops said his decision not to take the Florida job had less to do with the Gators and more to do with the Sooners.
"I had been making my own (success) here at Oklahoma. And I just felt with the administration, as loyal as they had been to me, as hard as they had worked to improve our program, that I felt so strongly about what we were doing and so positively about what we were doing here that I felt I wanted to continue to see it through."
His decision was sound.
He recently earned a $3-million bonus for remaining at the school for 10 seasons. And during that time, Stoops is 109-23 with a national title in 2000, two other BCS title game berths and six Big 12 titles. Just two of his teams (1999 and 2005) have won fewer than 11 games.
"Excellent coach, an excellent recruiter," Spurrier said of Stoops. "He had his visions of being a head coach. His dad was a coach, so there was something in his bloodlines.
"He was smart to pick a school that had great tradition and actually had a lot of good players. Sometimes, coaches can go where there's a lot of good players. I did that when I got to Florida in '90. Urban did it pretty much also. Bobby's got all the qualities of a super head coach."
Things have worked out for Meyer, too.
In four seasons at Florida, he is 43-9 and coaching in his second national championship game in three years. And although he's not a fan of playing against coaches with whom he has a relationship, last week, he and Stoops said they'll be able to put that friendship aside for four quarters.
Asked how tough it would be to go against Stoops in the title game, Meyer said, joking: "We're not that good of friends."
Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report. Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.